The cynical Indians fans among us will say it’s the same ol’, same ol’ for this year’s Tribe.
They have hit the season’s quarter pole at 24-17, on a pace to win over 90 games under new manager Terry Francona. However, last year they were 23-18 at this point, but finished the season 68-94 and in fourth place.
In 2011, they were 26-15 after 41 games, and actually got to 30-15 before falling apart and finishing 80-82. They went a combined 21-32 in June and July, reminiscent of the June swoons of the late 60’s and 70’s.
So why is this year any different? Let’s take a look at the make up of those two teams.
Here are the regular players on that 2011 edition of the Indians. The regular 2B was Orlando Cabrera, who contributed a few big hits early, but by June he couldn’t hit to save his life and was traded to the Giants before the end of July.
The 3B was Jack Hannahan, a whipping boy for this blog. He’s an excellent defender, but simply cannot hit.
Then manager Manny Acta was also the recipient of what may be the last gasp of Grady Sizemore’s career. That April, Sizemore hit .378 with 4 HR and 9 RBIs. The rest of the year, he hit .193, and hasn’t been in a big league since.
As for the pitching, Justin Masterson went 5-0 in April and had his best season overall, but because of a lack of run support, he was 5-6 by the end of June. They also had Carlos Carrasco emerging, as he was 8-6 with a 4.21 ERA at the end of June. Josh Tomlin also proved to be a solid starter.
In 2012, some of the regular players were 1B Casey Kotchman, Hannahan, and left field was a mishmosh of Johnny Damon, Shelley Duncan, and Ezequiel Carrera, none of whom are currently in the major leagues. It is no wonder that the Indians finished 13th in the AL in runs scored.
Masterson was having a mediocre campaign, and the good start early was fueled by veteran Derek Lowe, who was 6-3 through the end of May. And the bullpen was outstanding before running out of gas from overwork.
The Cleveland pitching staff ranked last in the American League in ERA.
This year, Francona has a lineup that can score runs, ranking 4th in the league in runs scored. Whereas the past few years, the Indians had to put out a squad that had three or four players who really weren’t a threat with a bat in their hands, in 2013, the skipper has used lineup where Michael Brantley has batted eighth.
Last year, the left fielder spent most of his time hitting in the #5 hole.
Instead of Kotchman, Orlando Cabrera, and Hannahan, this year’s team has Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, and Mark Reynolds.
The starting pitching is still a question mark, but Masterson looks to be the same guy he was in ’11, having a solid year, and Zack McAllister provides solid outings pretty much every time he goes out there.
The wild cards have been Ubaldo Jimenez, who has put together four straight solid outing (although it would be better if he could work longer) and Scott Kazmir, who looks closer to the former all-star he was than the guy who pitched in the independent league last season.
As for the bullpen, Francona seems to have made it a crusade to keep his relievers rested, so they will be strong all year. And because the offense has provided some blowouts, he can afford to be judicious in using Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano, and Chris Perez.
This isn’t to say the Indians will cruise into the post-season for the first time since 2007, but don’t confuse this team with those of the past two years. There’s much more talent in 2013.